Tampa Bay Rays
Rays notes: Slow starts big part of offensive woes
ST. PETERSBURG - CF B.J. Upton beat out a grounder to third base to lead off the fourth inning Monday for the Tampa Bay Rays' second hit of the night. It was a significant moment in that it gave the Rays two hits before the fifth inning. Without that single, the Rays would have entered the fifth inning with one hit (SS Ben Zobrist's first-inning single) or fewer for the 30th time this season. They are 8-21 when that happens. The slow starts are part of the club's offensive woes this season along with their .242 average with runners in scoring position (second lowest in the American League) and their near inability to hit home runs with runners on base (a major league-high 99 solo home runs prior to Monday's game). 3B Evan Longoria said the team is pressing."I think some guys have been," manager Joe Maddon said. "I would hope that they wouldn't, but it's a natural human quality." Maddon said he is doing some things with the hitters to snap them out of their funk, things he said he won't reveal. He did sound like he was nearing his wits end. "I'm trying everything, man," he said. "I've tried everything. Believe me I've tried everything." He's tried optional batting practice, no batting practice, late reports. He said there is no correlation between days with no on-field batting practice and the lack of early inning hits. "Zero. That's called the other team's starting pitcher," he said. "That's all that says. … We have not had that offensive magic going on and we need that, because we've been pitching well. We've been doing pretty good on defense. "We've got to somehow conjure up that offensive magic for this run. … There's guys on this team who are really capable of getting pretty hot very fast, too. We just haven't had that nice moment where we got three or four guys hot at the same time. It just hasn't happened. That's the part that's been kind of frustrating and that's the part that causes us to lag behind a little bit." Longo's leg Longoria did not start Monday for the first time since Aug. 20. "He felt a little heavy-legged," Maddon said. "He's not hurt." Maddon said he expects Longoria to be in the lineup for the remaining three games of this series with the Red Sox. "I don't know how we're going to do this, third base or DH," Maddon said. "But he's going to play." Injury updates After having an X-ray on his injured hand on Monday, IF Sean Rodriguez was cleared to hit, and he was used as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. He struck out swinging. An MRI on OF Sam Fuld's right hamstring revealed a moderate strain. He was to have the leg further examined Monday night by the team doctor. "Once we talk I'll have a better picture of what the actual timetable (to return) is," Fuld said. RHP Jeff Niemann (right rotator cuff inflammation) still has not been cleared to throw, though he hopes to return to the mound before the end of the season. "I'm realistic," Niemann said. "With every day that goes by, we're running out of days." Welcome home A dozen or so fans greeted the Rays on Sunday night at St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport after the 1-5 road trip. "I'm not surprised, because I know guys like to say we don't have a lot of fans and in one sense it's true. Why? Because we don't normally fill up the seats and even last year in the playoffs we didn't sell out," Rodriguez said. "But, the little bit of fans we do have I have to say are 100 percent loyal." Some in the welcoming committee held up signs that read: #162STRONG, which is the Rays' slogan down the stretch. "It's outstanding," Maddon said. "That's how that groundswell movement gets started sometimes. It starts with 12 people at an airport and all of a sudden you have a couple of thousand a couple of weeks from now. You never know."